Batgirls #1 Review: Strong Vibe, Weak Story
Batgirls #1 kicks off a new Batfamily-centric story with a focus on the three women who have taken up the Batgirl moniker. Written by Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad, with art by Jorge Corona, the new comic quickly establishes a new status quo spun from of the "Fear State" crossover event, but struggles to provide a central story hook separate from the event. The opening issue seems more concerned with vibes rather than plot, and while Batgirls certainly stands out due to its bright colors (courtesy of Sarah Stern) and strong characterization, the storyline (weak as it is) gets drowned out the necessary juggling act that comes with spinning out a group of characters into a new book.
Batgirls sees Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown moving into an apartment together in the Hill, a Gotham neighborhood that appears to be slowly gentrifying, following the destruction of Gordon's clocktower during Fear State. The three quickly fall into a familiar dynamic, with Brown acting as a hyperactive and bubbly foil to Cain's silent (and socially awkward) tough guy act, while Gordon acts as the overextended older sister of sorts who has her hands full trying to wrangle the pair while also trying to establish a new low-fi set-up. While Brown and Cain quickly find several intriguing mysteries to pursue, with a group of street thugs who attempt to harangue Cain, a mysterious neighbor dumping body-sized bags in the garbage, and some mesmerized street workers, the impetuous duo only hesitantly pursues these leads due to Gordon's request to "keep a low profile."
The major problem with Batgirls is mainly the lack of context and its murky connections to the "Fear State" crossover event that recently ran roughshod all over the Batman line of comics. For instance, Gordon's usual role as "all-seeing eye in the sky" was compromised by the presence of the Seer, a hacker who knows the trio's identities and has taken over Gordon's Oracle networks. The major issue here is that this isn't established outright in the series – the comic opens with an introduction to the Seer and Gordon later explains that she's resorting to Internet-less tech to steer clear of the Seer, but the comic fails to address that the Seer is at least somewhat responsible for the situation they are in. Additionally, the comic sprinkles plenty of interesting potential plot threads throughout the issue, but it ends with Brown and Cain confronted by a group of armored military goons with ties to the Magistrate, a paramilitary group that briefly took over Gotham City. The comic also references some other "Fear State"-related issues, such as Gotham's ban on vigilantes. In this case, that bit of continuity further muddies the water, as it's unclear whether the trio are trying to keep a low profile because of the vigilante ban or because they have an Oracle-level hacker following their every move.
On the plus side, Batgirls is a visual delight. Jorge Corona's more cartoon-like art style works well with the personalities of the characters, with an emphasis of exaggerated facial expressions that really help to sell the opposing personalities without resorting to cheap friction between the characters. There's also a gritty quality to the artwork, which helps to sell the unusual circumstances the Batgirls find themselves in, as the characters have gone to ground without the limitless resources of Bruce Wayne and the futuristic tech support of Oracle at their call. The coloring is also a highlight, with bright vibrant color choices that really help the comic stand out from just about every other Batman comic (or really, any DC comic out right now). I also appreciated that Batgirls really seems to get all three series leads. One could argue that the creative team overexaggerates certain personality traits, but I feel like toning down Brown's exuberance or Cain's lack of subtlety in populated settings only mutes these characters and makes them feel like the other 10,000 Bat-Family characters in existence today. You will certainly understand why Gordon, Cain, and Brown all have fanbases after reading this comic, which is better than how other characters (especially from Cain and Brown's generation) are treated these days.
Batgirls tries to do too much and at the same time doesn't do enough to establish what the comic is, especially in the muddled state of the Batman line today. However, while I personally would have loved to see the comic either embrace the "Fear State" nonsense wholeheartedly or reject it outright, I feel like Batman fans and especially fans of these three characters will enjoy the book immensely. Assuming that the comic can find a direction in the next couple of issues, Batgirls should be a highlight of 2022, with good vibes and strong characterizations already established.
Published by DC Comics
On December 14, 2021
Written by Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad
Art by Jorge Corona
Colors by Sarah Stern
Letters by Becca Carey
Cover by Jorge Corona and Sarah Stern0comments